Deep Echo of the Divine Bell; the New Beginning of the Silla Great Bell

Deep Echo of the Divine Bell; the New Beginning of the Silla Great Bell 

A German Archaeologist Dr. Kummel who was fascinated by the sound of a Korean bell said,

"This bell deserves to be called the best bell in the world. If Germany had a bell like this, we would build a great museum with just a single bell.”

A deep echo that is not heard anywhere else in the world. A lingering sound that would never cease. Hundreds and thousands of words could describe the King Seongdeok Divine Bell, but they would never be enough.

Now, we cannot directly listen to the sound of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell. All we can hear is the sounds recorded on electronic machines. The last tolling ceremony took place on the National Foundation Day of Korea in 2003, and the tolling of the bell was then stopped to protect the bell.

Thus, in order to give us and our children a chance to hear the vivid sound of the bell that is so much praised by the world, Gyeongju has made a new bell that resembles the appearance, size and sound of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell.

Silla Great Bell’

From the story of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell 1,200 years ago; to the Silla Great Bell today.
Let us travel back in time with the story of the sound of the bell.

1. Ever-Amazing ‘King Seongdeok Divine Bell’

The King Seongdeok Divine Bell, which has been designated as the National Treasure No. 29, was commissioned by King Gyeongdeok to honor his father, King Seongdeok. Since the casting of the bell that weighed as much as 18.9 tons could not be completed during his reign, the making of the bell passed on to his son, King Hyegong. In 771 during the reign of King Hyegong, the Great Bell was finally completed and was placed in Bongdeoksa Temple. The making of the bell took 34 years, and the bell boasts a height of 3.66 meters and a weight of 18.9 tons. The bell is currently stored in the belfry at the National Museum of Gyeongju.

The King Seongdeok Divine Bell has more surprises for you than just an overwhelming appearance. It will be even more surprising if you grasp it. Although the bell has not been rung for a while (for its own protection), it still makes the same deep sound after 1,200 years. The Divine Bell is a beautiful result of the religion, science and art of Silla.

“Its appearance is as lofty as a mountain, and its sound is like a dragon’s call that resounds to the ends of the earth and even penetrates into the ground. May the beholder feel a sense of wonder, and the hearer receive good fortune.”

-From the inscription on the King Seongdeok Divine Bell-

1) What is so excellent? The sound which was heard all over Seorabeol.
The sound of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell is said to have been heard in all areas of Seorabeol. The secret to its lingering sound that spread over many kilometres lies in what is called the ‘Beat Phenomenon.’
The Beat Phenomenon is where two waves of different frequencies interfere with each other, creating a new composite wave. This phenomenon makes the long and beautiful lingering sound of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell.

2) What is so excellent? A scientific bell which has no part placed without a reason.
Not only are the patterns inscribed on the King Seongdeok Divine Bell beautiful, but each pattern also has its place and particular design for a reason. Dangjwa, which is the striking point of the bell where the bell pounder (Dangmok) touches the side, is located in the perfect artistic ratio of the design.

The round sound pipe (Organ Pipe) at the top of the bell functions as a buffer for sound; while the Lotus Reliefs at the upper part of the body create the tune of the sound.In addition, the locations of the apsaras and Dangjwa create the beat phenomenon, and the slightly retracted opening of the bell functions to make the lingering sound last longer.
3) What is so excellent? Artwork which reflects the aesthetic view of Silla.
This scientifically fascinating King Seongdeok Divine Bell is also beautiful. The dragon which is depicted in the hook of the bell, called Yongnyu, seems to be alive. The apsaras, which is the best part of the patterns on the bell, looks like an angel flying to the heaven.

2. Re-experiencing this magnificent sound with the Silla Great Bell. ‘The Chronicle of the Birth of the Silla Great Bell.’

The King Seongdeok Divine Bell has now been reproduced under the name of ‘Silla Great Bell’. In order to let people hear the deep sound of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell once again, the Casting Committee of the Silla Great Bell was formed in March 2014 to begin working on the reproduction of the bell.

In September, the master craftsmen and experts gathered to decide on the commencement of the reproduction. After seven months of research and designing, and seven consultative meetings to discuss the patterns, they completed the mold of the bell to reproduce the original form of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell in its size, appearance and sound.

During this process, research was conducted on newly discovered secrets related to the patterns as well as the mistaken and worn parts. Based on this research, the bell was to be restored as closely as possible to the original form, after comparisons of the damaged parts for their improvements. The casting of the bell was conducted at Seongjongsa Temple, located in Jincheon-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do, which is also a workshop of Master Gwangsik Won, the best Jucheoljang (Casting aster) in Korea.

The casting of the Silla Great Bellwas conducted by following the traditional bell casting method which uses beeswax. The method involves making the mold for the bell from beeswax, melting the mold from the inside, and then carving the patterns on the mold. The result is a delicate and smooth work.

Then, the bell is made by pouring molten metal into the casting mold. In the case of the Silla Great Bell, a bottom casting method was used, where the liquid metal first goes down into the bottom and fills upward when it is poured. The gas inside the cast burns away and is emitted through the gas hole at the top, thereby making the bell flawless and strong.

After the completion of the Silla Great Bell, a sound analysis team compared its sound with the King Seongdeok Divine Bell. Its magnificence and harmony was found to be similar to the King Seongdeok Divine Bell. In addition, while the frequency of the beat phenomenon was also very similar, its strength of the Silla Great Bell was even higher. The length of the lingering sound lasted for approximately 25% longer as well.

The bell, which was completed at Seongjongsa Temple, located in Jincheon-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do, was first rung at the tolling ceremony in June 2016. On November 21, it was placed in the belfry prepared at the location of the old City Hall near Bonghwangdae Pavilion.

Tolling events will also be held on special days, such as the Samiljeol Independence Day, the National Liberation Day, the Gyeongju Citizen’s Day and the Watch-Night Bell Event. Also, there will be opportunities for tourists and local residents to experience the tolling, providing them with more to enjoy in Gyeongju.

3. Thematic Travel, ‘From the King Seongdeok Divine Bell to the Silla Great Bell’

The King Seongdeok Divine Bell had been relocated several times before it was stored in its current location in which is the belfry at the National Museum of Gyeongju. Bongdeoksa Temple, where the bell was first situated, was damaged by a flood during the Joseon Period, so that the bell was left unattended on a river bank. Dam Kim, who worked as a Buyun in Gyeongju, found the bell and relocated it to a site beside Yeongmyosa Temple.

Then, in 1506, when is the first year of King Jungjong, Chunnyeon Ye, who was another Buyun in Gyeongju, built a belfry outside the south gate of the town castle and near Bonghwangdae Pavilion, and moved the King Seongdeok Divine Bell. The bell rang at the time of the opening and closing of the gate as well as the drafting of soldiers. Thus, the King Seongdeok Divine Bell had a long journey.

Since then, during the Japanese occupation in 1915, the bell was moved to the belfry at the old Gyeongju Museum which was located in the back of the Court of Gyeongju, and stayed for 60 years until it was moved to its final home at the current museum in 1975. At that time, the transfer was a big issue. The process is described in detail in the book My Cultural Heritage Exploration written by HengJun Yu.

“The transfer of the Emile Bell was assigned to the Korea Express Co., Ltd. The Emile Bell is 3.7m high and weighs 19 tons. When it was packed for the moving, it became 5 meters high and 30 tons in weight. Moreover, it was 6 meters high on the trailer and the combined weight of the bell and the trailer was more than 50 tons.

Along Wolseong-ro, the distance from the old museum to the new one is only two kilometers. However, there was a bridge along the way which could not have endured the 50 tons.

Thus, the trailer had to take a longer way around, but all the electric wires in Gyeongju would be in the way. Nevertheless, this route was selected. The electricians from the Korean Electric Power Corporation disconnected the wires each time the trailer came across and reconnected them after it passed by during the whole trip.”

-From My Cultural Heritage Exploration

The locations of the King Seongdeok Divine Bell are situated within the downtown of Gyeongju.

They are connected as follows: ‘National Museum of Gyeongju – Bonghwangdae Pavilion – Gyeongju Culture Center (Old Gyeongju Museum).’

The downtown walking course could be added as follows: ‘National Museum of Gyeongju-Donggung and Wolji-Daereungwon-Bonghwangdae-Nodong and Noseo Tumuli- Gyeongju Culture Center.’

Start from the National Museum of Gyeongju where you can see the King Seongdeok Divine Bell.
After looking around the museum that features a number of artifacts of Silla as well as the bell,
Stop by Donggung Palace, Wolji Pond and Daereungwon Tomb on the way.

From the rear gate of Daereungwon Tomb, you will see the belfry of the Silla Great Bell not far away from there.

After walking through the belfry of the Silla Great Bell and Bonghwangdae Pavilion, you will head to the Gyeongju Culture Center (Old Gyeongju Museum) that is five minutes away on foot. At the Gyeongju Culture Center, you can find the belfry which contained the King Seongdeok Divine Bell. You may also wish to visit the Local History Museum, where you can find the records from the Joseon period, which is a relatively recent history of Gyeongju.


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